Many of the Machiguenga of the Manu River were first contacted by Protestant missionaries of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) during the 1960's. A number of more remote communities, referred to by the other Machiguenga as Kogapakori or "assassins", remain isolated and hostile to outsiders to this day. The SIL was forced to leave the Machiguenga villages soon after the Manu Park was created in 1974. Since that time, the Machiguenga of Manu have been both blessed and cursed by isolation from the brunt of social and economic changes occurring in native communities throughout Amazonian Peru. Most notably, they are prohibited from using firearms or from engaging in extractive economic activities other than their traditional swidden gardening, bow-and-arrow hunting, fishing and gathering. They are protected from the encroachment of colonists, lumber cutters and missionaries but they are also greatly limited in their access to cash and the things it can buy, including Western medical care. Partly for this reason, traditional use of medicinal plants has remained quite important. Only in the past decade have bilingual school teachers and representatives from indigenous organizations encouraged the Machiguenga of Manu to negotiate with the park authorities for new economic alternatives, formal education and more biomedical health care. Even so, health care is distributed mostly by the bilingual school teachers living in the communities, who have little training and meager medical kits. Periodic visits by more professional medical teams are infrequent, mostly for the yearly vaccination campaign.

A health post was installed in a native village in Manu in 1997, but the urban Peruvian health workers assigned to the post have had a difficult time adapting to the rain forest climate and the native culture, and have not delivered quality health care. In the future, Manu specialists hope that health promoters will be trained to appreciate and respect local customs and incorporate traditional medicine into Western health care.


The Machiguenga have knowledge of over three hundred species of medicinal plants that are effective for treating a wide variety of health problems, including common illnesses such as diarrhea, fever, headache, wounds and fungal infections as well as for more esoteric uses such as dispelling nightmares, for soothing an angry spouse, for keeping babies from crying at night and for improving the skills of male hunters and their hunting dogs

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